FRANCE: Petlura Trial

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Court. In the dim court of Assizes, in Paris, during the past fortnight, more than 400 spectators saw the beginning and the end of one of the most gruesome, bloodcurdling, impassioned trials ever to be held in that vaulted hall of justice. Quivering flappers sat to gasp with astonishment beside white & black bearded Jews who exchanged shocked glances with flat-faced Slavic Ukrainians under the noses of red & black-robed judges. Within and without the courtroom was a triple guard of gendarmes to prevent disorder.

Culprit. The accused man, who not only admitted committing the crime but even boasted of it, was a young Jewish Ukrainian, now a naturalized Frenchman, Sholem (Samuel) Schwartzbard, a watchmaker by profession. Short, ugly, he yet commanded the attention of the whole court, for he told his story, not as do many prisoners, shamefaced and haltingly, forced to reveal their crimes and motives by harassing lawyers—no, Watchmaker Schwartzbard openly confessed with gleaming eyes and hysterical mien, his body trembling with passion, how he slew "General" Simon Petlura to avenge the deaths of thousands of Jews slain in pogroms, which he charged "General" Petlura instigated.

Victim. Simon Petlura, in the opinion of many, was an adventurer. The son of a Russian cabman, he is said to have been active in plotting against the Tsar. In 1918 he entered Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, with the Austrian and German armies, under whose auspices he took the lead in trying to separate that province from the rest of Russia. He not only promoted himself a general but also declared himself ruler of the Ukraine. He failed and was obliged to flee. Two years later he reappeared, this time under the Poles, becoming president of a short-lived Ukrainian republic. He played off the Poles against the Bolsheviki and the Bolsheviki against the Poles and, eventually, again fell from power, this time to flee to France, where he lived in Paris until slain there by M. Schwartzbard. Under his regime, it is charged, more than 50,000 Jews were killed.

Lawyers. Henri Torres, chief counsel for the defense, florid, bloated, dynamic, put his histrionic abilities to the test when, leaping past his colleagues into the middle of the courtroom, he brandished a revolver, produced from under his voluminous black gown. Shrieks of terror mingled with gasps met this display. Flappers sat with blanched faces; bewhiskered Hebrews rocked back and forth with supressed excitement; Ukrainians, more pallid than ever, glanced nervously through their narrow eyes. Maitre Torres, aiming at a chair, pulled the trigger—there was a dull click, followed by sighs of relief. He was attempting to prove that M. Schwartzbard could not have shot Simon Petlura as he lay , prone on the ground.

Cesare Campinchi, flaccid, verbose, excitable, chief prosecution lawyer representing the Petlura family, particularly Widow Petlura, who was in court, proved himself the equal of Maitre Torres in oratorical and theatrical ability. Accused of suppressing evidence by M. Torres, he roared: "Don't accuse me of suppressing evidence, Torres!"* "Don't force me to place in evidence your personal pedigree!" yelled Torres. And thus they continued.

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